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France's Basque country

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Fine tuning an itinerary for next May. We are staying in Biarritz for 2 nights (after leaving Bordeaux). We want 2 nights somewhere in Basque country (Pyrenees) on the way to Carcassonne (where we'll stay 2 nights). I'm considering St. Jean-Pied-du Port, Luz-Saint-Sauveur, or Saint-Lary-Soulan. Any ideas? Thank you.

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    I would stay in Cauterets - near the major cols in the area and also the Pont d'Espagne. Here is something I wrote for another Fodors poster:

    Leave the Basque area and head east to St Jean Pied du Port* in France. St Jean is a major stop on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Campestela. You'll see lots of "shell" signs everywhere. St Jean is a tad touristy. It has one of our favorite restaurants in France - Les Pyrenees - which is also a hotel if you decide to spend the night. It's a quite an interesting village.

    The following route is through "free grazing" areas - so watch out for cows & other animals on the road. They have the right-of-way - and know it!!

    From St Jean Pied du Port, take the very pretty D18/D19 southeast over the Col Bagargui. Continue on the D19 then the D26. Continue on the D26 towards Tardets-Sorholus. When the D26 hits the D918 before Tardets, take the D918 east until it ends at the N134. Take the N134 south toward Lescun for a visit if there is enough time left in the day. Explore Lescun*, and take a walk if you encounter a dirt path (we found it). Then back on the N134 north and take the D294 heading east. This is a very scenic stretch of road. Perhaps visit Bielle* where the D294 hits the larger D934. Then head south on the D934 to the D918 where you head east. Now you're encountering serious Tour de France climbs. This is the famous Col d'Aubisque*** (pics in book). It's quite dramatic. We stayed on the "other" side of this Col in the village of Gaillagos for 2 weeks in '12. The last week, there were signs all over the place announcing the closing of this road for the TdF. My wife enjoyed the "old" hotels in Eaux-Bonne at the west end of the Col (pics in book).

    Continue on to Argeles Gazost and stay 2-3 nights in the "Haute Pyrenees". This is your chance for the "stay in one of those lovely, picturesque little villages" . We dined at two very nice restaurants, which are also hotels in the Vercos mountain region in the Pyrenees. They are close to each other - both just south of Argeles Gazost. So for 3 nights, you could stay in one, dine at both, plus the restaurant I mention below. The first one is La Grange aux Marmottes in Viscos (population 44). . The second one is Les Viscos in St Savin (population 372). . There are pictures in the book of both.

    Our best meal in the region was in Cauterets (just outside to the south) at l'Abri du Benques (pics in book). 05 62 92 50 15. However, they could not "accept" our magnetic stripe credit card - so we paid cash.

    Here are things to keep you occupied for several days in the area (we were there for 2 weeks - see book). Consult the Green Guide to find "extra" stuff to do.

    Switch to the Languedoc/Roussillon Green guide - although this region is in both Languedoc & Atlantic guides.

    1. The most famous Col in the Pyrenees is the Col du Tourmalet**. You'll go over it on the way to your next location/hotel. However, bad weather comes & goes, and I would not want only one chance to visit this Col. So I would go there early in the AM on the first day you're in the region. You might go all the way to Ste Marie de Campan & see the stuffed "people" in various places in Ste Marie (see pics in book). Then turn around & go back over the Col du Tourmalet.

    2. Visit the fantastic Pont d'Espagne*** don't miss (see pics in book). This is described on pg 395 in my Languedoc Green Guide.

    3. Donjon des Aigles birds of prey show around a crumbling castle. This was fabulous - we've seen several of these in Europe - and this was the best. Pg 378 in the Languedoc Green Guide.

    4. Take some chairlifts up to higher elevations with great views. The weather was really bad for 10 out of the 13 days we were in this region - so we didn't go on any chair/gondola lifts. We had planned to go on lifts starting from Cauterets, from Gourette on the Col d'Aubisque, and from La Mongie (Tourmalet/Pic du Midi de Bigorre***). There is info in the Green Guide about these - or just wait until you are there.

    5, Explore the Vallee de Gavarnie** - south of Luz St Sauveur.

    6. If the weather was not good when you drove over the Col d'Aubisque - do it again (we did it 4 times).

    Stu Dudley

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    Stu's itinerary is fantastic, nothing I could add. The Basque area of France hugs the coast, Biarritz and Bayonne being the main towns.

    As you head east you leave the heavy Basque influence but if you can do some of his itinerary, you won't be disappointed.

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